Shout Outs from the Universe

Sometimes when I'm being really narcissistic + curious about the great big world, I'll google myself, hoping to find some secret Pushcart nomination I never knew about from years ago or another blog of someone who read one of my short stories (it happens, but never enough), which usually means stumbling on some insolent/ignorant comment from some unpublished, superopinionated anonymous poster who doesn't have the courage to use her/his real name but somehow knows everything about me + the industry.  But sometimes, self-googling reveals whispers of your own existence you really want to believe in + also educates you about rad websites you didn't even know existed before you pushed the search button.  The first is a review of my short story "30 Roofies" in the literary blog The Review Review. This story was originally published in Quarterly West + is part of my collection, Atlas of Tiny Desires.  In case you're not wearing your bifocals, here's a close-up of the paragraph about "30 Roofies":

While I don't find this blurbish story review to be particularly profound, I'm very grateful for the press + also appreciate the author's admiration.  Really, I'll take whatever coverage I can get when it comes to my own writing.  As Tom has told me many times, the only thing we're trying to do as aspiring writers is publish our shit + find our audience.  Boom.

Another blog I discovered after self-googling was Ruelle Electrique that reviews literary journals, books + video games, among other things (three things after my very own heart). Ruelle Electrique reviewed my short story "$67.00 for My Favorite Dictator," (retitled "A Full Cellar" by Howard Junker), which was published in the every-snazzy, always fantastic ZYZZYVA.  "$67.00 for My Favorite Dictator" is another story included in my short story collection, Atlas of Tiny Desires.  Again, if you don't have spidievision, feel free to read the follow close-up below.  Or not:

And lastly, I discovered last month that I was included in an amazing, on-going project at The Rumpus to identify the blog or website of practically every writer of color on the face of the earth, which is no small undertaking, let me tell you that.  While I know that I'm hapa, a lot of people I've met in my life don't give me that honor.  I mean, I still have Asian friends who think they're the only Asian in the room.  It just doesn't sink in for many people because I'm not legibly Japanese-American.  So, in a small, tiny way, I found it both amazing + encouraging to see so many writers of color in this world (+ growing all the time!), + I also found it slightly empowering to get acknowledgment for who I am at such a great literary website like The Rumpus, not just for what I look like to the world.  Here's my name, in between Jabarsi Asiam and Jacqueline Woodson:

Baby Steps

As an emerging fiction writer, you have to continuously find new ways to believe in your writing for the simple reason that in the beginning--and it's always the beginning until you're famous--you're the only motherfucker who believes in it. Parents, friends, classmates, wives, pediatricians, as lovely as they are, don't matter, at least not in the publishing world. All the love in the world won't get you published, at least not until it's an editor who's swooning over your language play. So, in order to find the perfect agent + publish your polished novel, you need to make a name for yourself first. So you send query letters to agents + submit stories/chapters to literary journals, all of which entails a shitload of rejection. And with all that rejection, it's easy, so easy, in fact, to listen to that nagging little voice inside your head that says you're just not cut out for this industry that seems to reward technique over beauty, name-recognition over originality. Maybe you're not talented enough (unlikely). Maybe you're not intrepid enough (more likely). Maybe you're not well-connected enough + your skin isn't thick enough (very likely). But to stick it out in this game, inevitably, you learn to be intrepid, you build your own networks + through scar tissue, you become thick-skinned. You have no other choice. Otherwise, you give up. Luck helps, but as it turns out, you can't bribe her. . .

My problem (+ greatest strength) is that I don't give up on the things I love. The few respectable print publications I have so far are as much a product of my talent as my stubbornness. But shit, I'm human + sometimes I need to replenish, not only my faith in myself as an literary fiction writer, but also my hope as a human being.

So, here are a few things that help me keep the faith:

1. Submitted Love + Porn, my collection of short stories, to the AWP Contest in short fiction

2. Submitted Love + Porn to the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

3. Submitted Love + Porn to the Drue Heinz Literature Prize

Winning any of these contests is really fucking hard because each contest receives hundreds upon hundreds of manuscripts, many of which are as polished + pretty as yours. But you have to face these odds with your bare fists + fight for your right to live as a writer. And every contest you don't enter, your failure rate is 100%. So I'll take my 1-2% chance, thank you very much. Besides, even with those slim odds, the potential payoff can be fucking amazing: you win a prestigious literary contest, you win some cash + most importantly, you get your first collection of short stories out there in the world (which later, will probably get picked up by a major publishing house too--it happens all the time). And then, suddenly crowned with your first book, you'll give a few readings. You might give an interview or two for a journal. A book club wants to chat with you. Readers argue about you on Amazon. And suddenly, suddenly, your application for that creative writing faculty position, it goes from the bottom of the pile to somewhere in the middle. All of that with just one book, one contest, one piece of conspiracy that goes your way.

Beyond that, there are other things too that give me hope in the now + these things matter:

1. Like finding this awesome review in Ruelle Électrique of "A Full Cellar" that was published in ZYZZYVA, part of which you can read here (though this is not the complete story, by the way).

2. Finding my writing blog on New Pages without having to beg someone!

3. When times get tough, I remind myself that 8 years ago, I'd never taken a workshop before + now, TC Boyle is my thesis adviser

4. Remembering how only 3 years ago, I didn't have a single short story published in a prominent, nationally-distributed print literary journal. Not one

5. Fanmail. Though sparse, I've officially received 3-4 emails from people who read something of mine + loved it. And that really fucking makes my day. It helps me know that my writing does matter

Granted, there is still so much more to accomplish as (just another talented) fiction writer in this cut-throat market. But you can only take baby steps in this industry. And finally, I've taken a few. Just a few. But that's how you get to where you need to be.